The MoD originally ordered five of the new long-range E-7 Wedgetail aircraft in 2019 to replace ageing surveillance aircraft.
However, the order was cut from five to three in 2019 as defence chiefs tried to cut costs. The Wedetails act as early warning systems thanks to their powerful radar systems which can detect threats from hundreds of miles away.
Following the decision to order the radar systems, the MoD has decided to put the two state-of-the-art radars into storage.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Defence Minister James Cartlidge said: “At the time of the Integrated Review decision to reduce the scope of the UK E-7 Wedgetail programme from five to three aircraft, the MESA (Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array) radars for aircraft four and five were in production.”
Mr Cartlidge added: “It was decided that production and delivery of all five MESA radars would continue as planned, allowing a saving/offset of initial procurement and sustainment spares from the overall programme cost.”
According to experts, reducing the Wedgetail order will cut just 12.5 percent of the project’s budget, down from £2.16billion to £1.89billion.
The former defence minister has branded the exercise the “mother of all false economies” as the RAF continues to modernise its fleet.
Mr Francoise, who is chairman of the Defence Sub-Committee inquiry, said: “The Ministerial decision to cut the number being purchased from five to three is extremely dangerous.
“If we were left effectively blinded in a future shooting war with Russia, this could yet turn out to be the mother of false economies.”
Mr Francois’ comments have been echoed by former Royal Navy fighter pilot Captain Dan Stenbridge who told MPs that three aircraft just wasn’t enough.
Captain Stenbridge said: “It is not enough to be able to deliver effect in two places at once. It may allow you to join in as part of a coalition and provide, which is an important fact, but fundamentally it is not enough.”
The Wedgetails, based on converted Boeing 737s, will replace the E3 Sentry aircraft which the UK retired in 2021.
Despite the cuts, there are hopes the other two aircraft could be ordered in the next defence review which comes as global tensions continue to increase.
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A government spokesperson said: “The E-7 aircraft will provide the UK with one of the most advanced early warning systems in the world.
“A three-aircraft fleet will deliver on our key operational requirements and enable the UK to meet its national and international commitments.
“The decision to reduce the scope of the programme from five to three aircraft generated some £720million of savings, with the two spare radars retained for future sustainment requirements, optimising aircraft availability.”
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